On Sunday, AMC launches its new thriller series Dark Winds. Based on author Tony Hillerman's "Leaphorn and Chee" book series, Zahn McClarnon and Kiowa Gordon star as a pair of Navajo police officers investigating a series of murders and a violent bank robbery.
The 1970s-set thriller series was produced by Hillerman fans Robert Redford and George R.R. Martin, whose book series A Song of Ice and Fire became the HBO hit Game of Thrones.
For Native Americans McClarnon and Gordon, apart from the thrill of working on a project based on beloved characters, the "Southwestern film noir" was a game changer for representation.
McClarnon, who is an executive producer in addition to playing the no-nonsense investigator Joe Leaphorn, explains, "We had two Native EPs and we put together a Native writing room, as well as Native directors and Native crew, Native actors and actresses.
"So it was exciting to be a part of something that was committed to allowing us to tell our own stories, to contextualize Tony Hillerman's books through a Native perspective," he says. "It's an exciting time for Native representation in media right now."
Gordon, who plays Leaphorn's new deputy Jim Chee, agrees. "It's an incredible and powerful thing to witness ... It's been years and decades and a century in the making, you know, when film first started the depictions of Native people," he says. "It's amazing."
McClarnon says he "loves" his character, adding Hillerman's best-selling series "did most of the heavy lifting."
"I have ... a wealth of material to draw from about Joe Leaphorn. All I had to do was put on the uniform and bring my own life experiences to that character."
Dark Winds airs at 9 p.m. ET on AMC and streams on AMC+.